Pulling my nose out of Facebook | AspenTimes.com

Pulling my nose out of Facebook

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook feed to a post that had generated some heated debate, maybe over a cause you really cared about, and felt the need to respond?

Maybe you typed a few sentences, and then a few more. Maybe you reread what you wrote and then deleted some, rewrote some, edited some, and then tried again, trying to express yourself just right.

Before you know it, you’ve wasted 15, 20, even 30 minutes on something that, had you not logged into your Facebook account, never would have existed. Maybe you responded to a response, not to the original post, but to a comment that was made by someone you didn’t even know. But the comment enraged you enough to call the person out.

Now throughout the rest of your day, you’re receiving notifications that this random person has responded to the comment on your post. Now it’s gone from engaging to annoying, but you can’t resist the urge to read what the person wrote. That visceral need to get the last word gnaws at you, so you go through the whole process over again, and now it’s evoked a series of negative emotions.

At some point, after much time wasted, you realize the best response is no response.

But still, you read on. You cringe at other people who also can’t resist the urge go on senseless rants that are met by more senseless rants. But still, you’re reading it.

I’m as guilty as anyone of wasting too much time on social media. I post photos when I’m bored, when I have photos I wanted to brag about. Photos that say, “Look at me! See how happy I am? See how beautiful my family is? See how rad my life is? Look at where I live! Look at how fit I am (otherwise known as a photo taken at a good angle) and how young I still look (at least with sunglasses on) and how I hiked up Highland Peak! See? I can do a handstand at 12,000 feet on top of Highland Peak with snowboard boots on!”

I once posted a photo of Levi’s first passport. I thought it was cute and wanted to boast about his first trip out of the country. A friend of mine, who is always looking out for me, pointed out that I could be putting his identity at risk. It’s crazy to think I put my own narcissism before my child’s safety.

This is exactly why social media, which once appeared as the ultimate of freedom of speech, has become the exact opposite. Instead of a gateway to the information super highway, it’s more like a trap.

Now, in our lifetime, there is such a thing as a “Russian bot” that has wreaked havoc on our social media channels with a series of fake accounts designed to manipulate, propagandize and break down our system. It’s kind of brilliant in a way: They’re taking the very tool that we created to express ourselves freely and using it to divide and corrode our society.

The other night I was watching an interview with President Barack Obama on “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” and he put it like this: “One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts. If you watch Fox News, you are on a different planet than if you listen to NPR. … If you are getting all your information off algorithms sent through a phone, it is just reinforcing whatever biases you have. … We are operating in completely different information universes. At a certain point, you just live in a bubble, and that’s part of why our politics is so polarized right now.” And Letterman replied, “It seems like a valuable tool that was used against us.”

It’s funny. I saw the red flags, I had the right instincts about social media turning toxic, but I kept right on posting.

Then it started to get boring. The same posts were coming up over and over again, and the range of people whose posts I was seeing seemed to get smaller. Still, I scrolled and posted and checked my page whenever I got that pleasing little red dot that alerted me to a new notification.

In January, I gave up social media. Partly because I did not want to be a parent who spent time staring at my phone while I was spending time with my child. Partly because I wanted to see what it felt like to empty my head of all this stuff I didn’t need, like that extra 5 pounds I’m always trying to lose or those clothes that sit at the back of the closet and don’t get worn. I wanted my privacy back. I wanted to stop worrying about what other people were doing and alleviate that adolescent impulse that is apparently so widespread it’s been turned into an acronym for “fear of missing out.” I wanted to stop taking photos with the intention of posting them later, and just capture the moment for myself — or better yet, leave my phone behind and just enjoy the moment.

Today’s headlines include “Russian bots moved quickly to exploit Florida shooting” in The New York Times and “Here are the tools that could be used to create the fake news of the future” in the Washington Post about a long list of current digital technologies that make it easier than ever to alter photos and videos that can be used to create fake news, which is most often disseminated on social media.

It’s unfortunate that something that seemed so promising at the outset has somehow poisoned our society and threatened our democracy. It’s also pretty scary.

The freedom of speech is something to be cherished. But here’s the thing: we still have the freedom to log off.

The Princess is thanking the snow gods today. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.